What do you get if you Google the most common English words?

Posted on July 24, 2019

 

If you run a business, you probably get regular annoying emails from questionable companies claiming to provide search engine optimisation services. A common claim these chancers make is that they can get you on the “first page of Google”. In truth, they probably can, but the question is – what search term will it be for?

For example, I could put a made-up word like ‘squizzlyplox’ into this article. Give it a few days for Google to index it, and I’m sure a Google search for ‘squizzlyplox’ will indeed bring this article onto the first page of Google’s results – in fact it will probably be the only result. So, hey presto, I’ve just got this article onto the first page of Google!

The point here is that it’s not hard to rank for a word or phrase nobody is using, but that made me think of the opposite situation. What about the words everybody is using? Who is managing to rank for the words we say and write more frequently than any other?

Using Google.co.uk on Tuesday morning, I decided to search for the 10 most common words in the English language to see what came up. I’m ignoring the likes of Wikipedia and Dictionary.com listings of the words themselves and looking more at the commercial and popular culture entries that manage to make it onto Google’s first page for these common words.

1. The

Aside from dictionary definitions, a search for the most common word in English mainly brings up the websites of British newspapers. The Guardian ranks highest of them, followed by The Sun, The Telegraph and The Independent. The website for the Times Higher Education university rankings (which uses the abbreviation THE) also makes the first 10 results.

Interestingly, a search for ‘the’ with Bing brings up The Sun before The Guardian – read whatever you like into that about political stances and the Rupert Murdoch influence!

2. Of

A search for ‘of’ returns almost entirely dictionary bumph, but the site for the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography just makes the first page thanks to the ‘of’ in its name. There are also some video results in there, including one on Call of Duty, and music videos for Ed Sheeran’s ‘Shape of You’ and Florence + the Machine’s ‘Jenny of Oldstones’.

3. To

Some peculiar results pop up for ‘to’, including the University of Manchester’s guidance on ‘Referring to Sources’, and two Gov.uk pages about coming to the UK. Currently, I’m also getting a talkSPORT story about Manchester United’s “imminent” signing of Harry Maguire.

4. And

The Indian clothing website AND is one of the first results I’m getting for a search for this common conjunction, which is strange given I’m using the UK version of Google. I can also see some SQL advice on using the AND operator, and the BBC’s page for its drama series ‘Years and Years’.

5. A

The Youtube Ali-A, who has over 16 million subscribers, holds the honour of being the top Google result for this single-letter search. In addition, we get several music videos by artists like Lady Gaga, 21 Savage, Zayn and Sam Smith.

6. In

Can’t be bothered typing ‘Instagram’ into Google? Just type ‘in’, and the photo-sharing social media site will be the top result. You can also see the collectables website Pop In A Box on the first page, along with a couple of Indian websites, with .in being the country’s top level domain.

7. Is

Like ‘of’, this is a bit of a boring search that returns a lot of dictionary content, but the alt-rock project This Is The Kit makes the first page. So too do the videos for ‘Who Is It?’ by Michael Jackson, ‘God is a Woman” by Ariana Grande and ‘What is Love?’ by Korean girl band TWICE.

8. It

Stephen King has done pretty well to own our language’s eighth commonest word. Most of the top results are to do with his 1986 novel or the 2017 film based on it.

9. You

Just as ‘in’ gets you Instagram, ‘you’ gets you YouTube. There are also pages about the Netflix psychologic thriller ‘You’, and I got a chilling article from The Guardian to do with a note to the future on whether we successfully reversed climate change.

10. That

‘That’ was quite a dry one again. The most interesting result was probably an event page for a ‘That’ll Be the Day’ show in Llandudno.

Ultimately, most of these results are taken up by major budgets and popular news sources, but there are one or two surprises, and it’s also clear that time sensitivity is a factor. Ranking for these words is out of the reach of most of us, and would probably be a waste of time anyway as few people would search for them, but there is a middle ground to be found between ‘the’ and ‘squizzlyplox’ that Engage Web can help you rank for.

John Murray

Content Team Leader at Engage Web
John works for Engage Web as a Content Team Leader and regularly contributes to the website and programmes of his beloved Chester F.C.

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